If you’ve heard about interdisciplinary working, it’s probably through the healthcare industry, where interdisciplinary teams like the ones in the NHS are working hard to fight Coronavirus. Interdisciplinary working is beneficial in all kinds of industries however, and a great place to start is in Higher Education!

We ought to know about the benefits, as we’ve been running Enterprise by Design’s interdisciplinary challenge for 10 years now. After watching students collaborate and innovate each year, we’ve decided to share some of the ways interdisciplinary working creates graduates who are well rounded, forward thinking, team players who are ready for the modern workplace! 

Interdisciplinary learning develops T-shaped people 

Instead of only being equipped with knowledge in the field of their degree, interdisciplinary work gives students the chance to become “T-shaped” where they are very knowledgeable in their own area, but also capable in many others. 

The “T-shaped” comes from having the depth of knowledge that comes from expertise in your own area, and the breadth of knowledge that comes from understanding how your expertise fits in with other disciplines.

In Enterprise by Design, our students are put in teams across Business, Arts, Science and Engineering to develop business plans for a local company. Typically during a student’s time in undergraduate education, they wouldn’t collaborate with students in such different degrees. In multidisciplinary work however, students have to build ideas off their different expertise, whilst also learning from one another. This develops students into employees who are well versed in their own field, but also have a wide range of skills that are adaptable in different working situations. 

Students gain real world context for their studies with interdisciplinary collaboration 

Rather than just learning about what it will be like to work in their future industry in a lecture theatre, students gain real world context of their studies by collaborating in teams across different disciplines. 

From product development and consumer psychology to marketing and branding, our student teams go through a journey where they experience the conception of an idea to it being fully realised and on the market. This allows students to be a part of every aspect of business development in a very hands-on manner, as opposed to in a typical classroom setting where they would only learn about it during a lecture. 

Interdisciplinary teams exposes students to people with different working styles

In our different challenges, students are exposed to the working styles of people outside of their field; business students are able to see the difficulties in developing sustainable products by the design students, whilst design students are able to watch business and psychology students develop effective marketing plans for those products to appeal to an audience. 

Many industries have professionals with different working styles and methods to deal with challenges. During interdisciplinary collaboration in higher education, students are exposed to the working styles and problem solving methods of students learning in different disciplines, allowing them to have a glimpse at creating working relationships with others and hopefully take away beneficial aspects of other students’ working styles. 

Interdisciplinary collaboration helps students strengthen their understanding of their field by teaching it to others 

Research shows that one of the most effective ways of better understanding a subject is to teach it to someone else. During EBD’s yearly challenge, our students are continually learning from each other, sharing information they’ve learned in their courses to develop their ideas over the weeks. By sharing expertise in their own field, they gain confidence in presenting their knowledge to other team mates, as well as presenting those ideas in a larger setting such as EBD’s finale. 

Interdisciplinary collaboration keeps students from focusing on vying for the spot of most “scholarly” student on their course, but to instead be the “expert” on their field in their individual teams, taking the focus off of academic competition, and more onto collective innovation.  

Interdisciplinary collaboration creates students who understand multiple aspects of a business, not just the ones their degree is in

Often when graduates go for their first job, they only see a small aspect of a company. In Enterprise by Design, our students have a chance to think about real world aspects of their studies that might affect a business, such as developing sustainable packaging for a product, researching the market and the competition and website development for potential customers. 

What typically would be done in different industries or separate departments of a company are being done by groups of students who are being exposed to many different aspects of business development in their interdisciplinary teams. This gives them an understanding and an empathy for different challenges that could be faced for a company, making them more aware of not just their expertise, but a multitude of fields they could be liasoning with in the future. 

Are there other aspects of interdisciplinary collaboration that you find beneficial? Comment below!